Perception and modification of plant flavonoid signals by rhizosphere microorganisms

Phillip Morris, J. E. Hooker, L. J. Shaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Flavonoids are a diverse class of polyphenolic compounds that are produced as a result of plant secondary metabolism. They are known to play a multifunctional role in rhizospheric plant-microbe and plant–plant communication. Most familiar is their function as a signal in initiation of the legume-rhizobia symbiosis, but, flavonoids may also be signals in the establishment of arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis and are known agents in plant defence and in allelopathic interactions. Flavonoid perception by, and impact on, their microbial targets (e.g. rhizobia, plant pathogens) is relatively well characterized. However, potential impacts on 'non-target' rhizosphere inhabitants ('non-target' is used to distinguish those microorganisms not conventionally known as targets) have not been thoroughly investigated. Thus, this review first summarizes the conventional roles of flavonoids as nod gene inducers, phytoalexins and allelochemicals before exploring questions concerning 'non-target' impacts. We hypothesize that flavonoids act to shape rhizosphere microbial community structure because they represent a potential source of carbon and toxicity and that they impact on rhizosphere function, for example, by accelerating the biodegradation of xenobiotics. We also examine the reverse question, 'how do rhizosphere microbial communities impact on flavonoid signals?' The presence of microorganisms undoubtedly influences the quality and quantity of flavonoids present in the rhizosphere, both through modification of root exudation patterns and microbial catabolism of exudates. Microbial alteration and attenuation of flavonoid signals may have ecological consequences for below-ground plant-microbe and plant–plant interaction. We have a lack of knowledge concerning the composition, concentration and bioavailability of flavonoids actually experienced by microbes in an intact rhizosphere, but this may be addressed through advances in microspectroscopic and biosensor techniques. Through the use of plant mutants defective in flavonoid biosynthesis, we may also start to address the question of the significance of flavonoids in shaping rhizosphere community structure and function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1867-1880
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 02 Oct 2006


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